09 Oct You’re Not “Over-trained”, But Rather Most Likely Under Fueled

By Scott DeFilippis, Pro Triathlete and Head Coach, KIS Performance Team

When I first came into the sport of triathlon I was extremely lucky to run into the world’s best coach, Brett Sutton. I spent 5 years under his tutelage as an athlete and budding coach. The lessons I learned from this man are invaluable and so many of them stand out like a sore thumb. But the one that continues to ring in my ear day in and day out was him hammering away to his squad of 20+ all hailing from different countries, speaking different languages, and coming into the sport with varying sporting backgrounds…I can remember his words like it was yesterday, “The term, ‘overtraining’ is the most misused and overused term in our sport! Do you know how hard it is to over train a human being?”

 This was during my first heat camp in Subic Bay, Philippines. For 3 months we lived on the former U.S. Army Base training day in and day out all the while he used himself as an example of just how hard a human being can work. Running sometimes 3 x per day Brett would show up to our training sessions dripping in sweat after running under the hot tropical sun for 1,2, sometimes 3 hours, “Look at me, this fat old man, logging 40kms today. If I can do it, so can you! Don’t tell me, you are tired or over trained. The human body can handle so much more than you think it can,” Ready for this…”As long as there is fuel in the tank! Put the petrol in and you can go all day long!” Wise words from the crazy Australian!

Over the years I have done a ton of experimenting on myself much like the great Australian run coach, Percy Cerutty (Please note I am not comparing myself as being at the level of a coach as the great man himself).  I’ve trained in all sorts of environments, hot places, high places, wet places, and perfect places (like my current home in Southern California). No matter what environment you are faced with, the constant lesson learned is, keep putting the petrol in the tank! There is a current fad going around, ‘low carb, high fat’. If not done correctly and under a physician’s guidance, it will prove to be a very slippery slope! This sort of diet is very, very extreme and although it may work for the very few, it will no doubt leave athletes burnt out in 18-24 months, if not sooner!  A warning to all age group athletes, YOU DO TRIATHLON TO ENHANCE YOUR LIFE, NOT TO CONSUME YOUR LIFE! TRIATHLON IS NOT WHO YOU ARE AS A HUMAN BEING SO PLEASE STEER CLEAR OF SUCH FAD DIETS!” 

Keep it simple! Eat normally; when your body is craving something, you are most likely missing something in your diet…Craving meat? You are low on iron. Craving cheese? You are low on calcium! Craving fruit or vegetable? You are low on Vitamin C or magnesium…LISTEN TO YOU BODY!

But, back to my point…When one is over trained or under fueled, the feelings can be very similar. The difference is, if someone is really truly over trained, they would need a serious reboot, I’m talking months of off any kind of aerobic work other than a brisk walk will only set you back to where you started.  If, however, someone is feeling similar symptoms (weak, unmotivated, high heart rate, achy) Chances are, they have strung together too many days with way too many calories put out without being replaced. A simple way to fix this problem is pull up to a McDonald’s drive through and order a Happy Meal.  If you don’t eat meat, order the fish combo with a milk shake!   

Most people training for an ultra-endurance event of 4 + hours are most likely burning the candle at both ends. What do you think gets overlooked first? Yep, eating…we forget to eat as we are too distracted with work, errands, picking kids up at school or sport activities. All the while trying to balance their own personal endeavors in sport…Thus, most endurance athletes are already riding that slippery slope of not having enough fuel in the tank. 

This is why I personally always carry an XRCEL with me for any training session over 1.5 hours, just in case I start to feel that bonky feeling in the brain.  

Within our own KIS Performance Squad based in San Diego we try to swim first in the day at least 3 x per week. Why? Because in triathlon we swim first so it makes sense to get your body used to being horizontal while forcing it to be in a hypoxic state before trying to ride a bike or run. Just like on most race mornings, before swim training it is hard to eat and if we are carrying fatigue of a heavy load of training, for example a Saturday long ride, Sunday long run, Monday am we might be under fueled. This is a great time to carry an XRCEL or other carb source with you at the pool. You will notice that during the warm up you might start to feel a bit bonky in the head. If, so…take an XRCEL gel before the main set… You’ll save yourself from getting the week off to a bad start and most likely save your next session.  

Here’s another example. 9 months out of the year our San Diego squad typically does a long aerobic brick (BIKE/Run) on Wednesday. We then back that up with a long fartlek or steady run on Thursday. Because the Wednesday session is relatively easy in intensity it’s sometimes easy to overlook fueling. (Please note that such sessions its best to try and consume half the amount of energy or carbs that you would in a long distance event.) This is a way of teaching your body to be more fat adaptive without the use of an extreme diet.

But, sometimes we get lazy or if the weather is bad in the winter months we push on and don’t stop for fuel…slowly a hole is being dug…Then we get up the next day for our run and bam, like a ton of bricks, you have very little left in tank and struggling to put one foot in front of the other.  Again, this is a perfect situation to carry a carb source such as XRCEL with you so you can save your session. I can’t tell you how many times XRCEL has saved stopped sessions such as these from going sideways…

Please note I am not a physician but through experienced based coaching, I’ve seen enough athletes come and go to recognize when someone is under fueling and not over trained. There are ways to make you more fat adaptive, which will help you in your long distance racing but only follow the advice of a trusted sports doctor who also has plenty of field experience advising endurance athletes!

Happy Training

Frederick Sexton
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